Valentia Coast Guard calculations 'crucial' to rescue of five crew adrift


HOW YACHT WAS FOUND:THE CALCULATIONS of three Kerry-based Valentia Coast Guard radio operators were “crucial” in finding the Rambler 100owner George David, his partner Wendy Touton and three fellow crew who were thrown off the yacht south of the Fastnet Rock on Monday night.

Without that information, rescue agencies would have found it “almost impossible” to locate the group of five in the water in thick fog, according to Irish Coast Guard colleagues.

Several yachts competing in the Fastnet passed very close to the capsized Rambler 100,but said they were unaware that it was in serious trouble and did not hear the shouts of the 21 crew. Sixteen of them were clinging to the upturned hull until they were located by the Baltimore lifeboat, while five others were adrift.

Paying tribute to the information provided by Valentia Coast Guard, winch operator Ciarán McHugh on the Shannon Sikorsky helicopter described yesterday how Ms Touton, was in an advanced state of hypothermia when flown to Farranfore airport and taken by ambulance to Tralee General Hospital, Co Kerry.

“She was drifting in and out of consciousness, her body temperature was way down and she couldn’t remember where she was,” Mr McHugh said.

“Weather conditions in Cork were too difficult, which is why we had to opt for Kerry,” he said.

Mr McHugh and winchman Colm Hillary, both of whom are paramedics, administered oxygen and kept her stable. Ms Touton had been lifted on to the aircraft using a double-strap technique, developed after the 1979 Fastnet race in which 15 people died. The technique keeps potentially hypothermic victims in a foetal position to preserve body temperature.

It has emerged that the Rambler 100’s emergency position indicating radio beacons did not activate immediately when the 100ft yacht capsized just before 6.30pm on Monday, three nautical miles south of Fastnet Rock. The beacons did not start transmitting until 4am yesterday.

However, a weak signal from a personal radio beacon worn by one of the crew was relayed from Kinloss search and rescue in Scotland to the Irish Coast Guard’s Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre in Dublin and on to Valentia.

The three radio officers on duty at Valentia – John O’Sullivan, James Lynch and Maurice Curtin – scrambled to confirm the identity of the beacon’s owner, what yacht he or she was on and the yacht’s location. They tasked the Irish Coast Guard Shannon and Waterford helicopters, the Baltimore lifeboat and local boats including the Wave Chieftain, a dive boat skippered by Jerry Smith who is also deputy cox of Baltimore lifeboat.

Using a US computer programme developed to track pollution, Mr O’Sullivan calculated the most probable “drift track” of the boat and missing crew, while Mr Lynch and Mr Curtin worked on radio.

The 16 on board the yacht hull were rescued by Baltimore lifeboat, coxed by Kieran Cotter. A course was given to Baltimore’s inshore lifeboat and to Mr Smith on the Wave Chieftain,which led him to the five missing, clipped together in a heavy swell and poor visibility for several hours.

“They were all a bit shocked but in very good spirits,” Mr Smith said. “They were cold and cramping but we wrapped them up and gave them hot tea once we got them on board. They were extremely lucky.”